What Historical Evidence Exists for the Resurrection?

The Resurrection—Tischbein, 1778.
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Post Author: Bill Pratt

Quite a bit of historical evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In this post, I will follow the lead of historians Gary Habermas and Mike Licona and give you five key facts that the majority of modern historians agree upon (see their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus).

How can I say what the majority of historians agree upon?  According to Licona, “Habermas has compiled a list of more than 2,200 sources in French, German, and English from 1975 to the present.  He has identified minimal facts that are strongly evidenced and which are regarded as historical  by the large majority of scholars, including skeptics.”  Skeptics are defined as people who deny that Jesus rose from the dead in any way.

The first fact is that Jesus was killed by crucifixion.  What ancient sources attest to Jesus’ crucifixion?  The four Gospels, the Roman historian Tacitus, the Jewish historian Josephus, the Greek writer Lucian of Samosata, the pagan Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Jewish Talmud.  The extremely skeptical scholar John Dominic Crossan said, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical ever can be.”

The second fact is that Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.  Several sources attest to this fact.  The apostle Paul reports his interactions with the disciples (Peter, James, and John) on this topic, and Paul also records early oral traditions from the church (see 1 Cor. 15:3-7).  The Book of Acts records early Christian sermons that spoke about the resurrection.  All four Gospels record the fact that the disciples thought they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion.  The apostolic fathers Clement and Polycarp both report the resurrection appearances as well.  The atheist scholar Gerd Ludemann said, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”

The third fact is that the church persecutor Paul converted.  The fact that Paul converted after being hostile to Christianity is confirmed by Paul himself, but also by Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen.  These other sources also report that not only did Paul convert, but that he was willing to die for his beliefs.

The fourth fact is the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half brother.   The Gospels of Mark and John both report that James was not a believer in Jesus while Jesus was alive.  Paul records the fact that James saw the risen Jesus.  Luke records in Acts that James became a leader in the Jerusalem church, as does Paul in Galatians.  We know that James was even martyred for his beliefs from Josephus, Hegesippus (as reported by Eusebius), and Clement of Alexandria (as reported by Eusebius).

The fifth fact is that Jesus’ tomb was empty.  This fact does not garner the near universal assent of critical historians, although Habermas estimates that about 75% of the scholars he studied do grant this fact.  All four Gospels allude to the empty tomb and Paul certainly implies the empty tomb in 1 Cor. 15.  Several persuasive arguments have been made to support the historicity of the empty tomb (see Is There Evidence for the Empty Tomb?)  According to Oxford University church historian William Wand, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”

Now, given these five facts, what historical hypothesis best explains these facts?  Licona and Habermas argue that the bodily resurrection of Jesus best explains the five facts and outdistances all other theories in its explanatory power.  Remember, alternative theories must explain these five facts better than the resurrection does in order to command a higher historical probability than the resurrection.  In my experience, the alternative theories all suffer from major deficiencies, leaving the resurrection hypothesis on solid historical ground.

  • Boz

    None of these five points are facts – they are tentative/doubtful conclusions derived from facts.

    Take for example, the James seeing Jesus after he died. This is not a fact. The fact we should discuss is that:

    Papyrus 46 says that Paul wrote that he heard a hearsay/rumour that James said that he saw Jesus after he died.

    There is a great deal more uncertainty surrounding each of these issues than the author is letting on.

  • Bill Pratt

    Boz,
    In the past, you’ve chastened me for not going with the experts on historical scientific issues, such as evolution. Why is it you are bucking against the experts when it comes to historical evidence about the resurrection? Are you just as skeptical about the historical evidence for Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or any other people of antiquity, or is it just Jesus that bothers you?

  • Boz

    The consensus opinion of koranic scholars is that the Arch-Angel Gebriel asked Muhammad (pbuh) to declare himself as the Messenger of Allah.

    Naturally, we are both quite suspicious of this conclusion.

    Similarly, the consensus opinion of conservative christian NT scholars is that Jesus died for our sins and was ressurected, and then ascended to heaven.

    I am quite suspicious of this conclusion. I am skeptical because the conclusion is a pre-existing dogmatic faith committment, and evidence is moulded and retionalised to fit this unchangeable conclusion. This is a peversion of the historical method.

    Furthermore, I am of the understanding that the consensus position of historians is that jesus was not bodily ressurected.

  • Boz

    I use a bayesian approach when assessing the truthfulness of claims. That means, I start with a probability that the claim is true, given that there is no evidence at all. Then I look at the evidence that I am aware of, and amend the probability in light of that evidence.

    For non-magical claims, such as Alexander looting the palace at Perseopolis, or Julius caesar being stabbed to death, or Jesus being a preacher, the initial probability is high, and so the required evidence is low.

    For magical claims, such as Julius Caesar being a deity/god, or young Jesus killing a child by cursing him, the initial probability is extremely low, and so the required evidence is extremely high.

    so, you could say that I require more evidence before I will believe a miracle/supernatural/magical/paranormal claim, than I would for a non-magical claim.

  • Bill Pratt,

    For me, the difference between trusting science experts on evolution and theological claims regarding historical events; is that when I check the underlying data and evidences, the scientists report accurately whereas the Christian apologists…do not.

    [In fact, a familiar mantra from the OEC and Intelligent Design crowd is, “We agree on the facts with evolution; we disagree with the interpretation.” Even opponents to evolution agree the scientists have the underlying data correct.]

    The scientists deal with possible issues, provide qualified responses and are far more credible. As Boz pointed out, Christian apologists tend to hold conclusions first, and then look for any possible supporting data, while ignoring conflicting evidences or alternative solutions. I don’t find them credible at all.

    I could pick out numerous demonstrations in this blog entry alone, but for a few examples:

    1. Does the Talmud attest to Jesus crucifixion? Upon reading the account we find out…No.
    2. Does Mara Bar-Serapion attest to Jesus crucifixion? Upon reading the account we find out…No.

    3. Does Tacitus attest to Jesus crucifixion? Upon reading the account we find out…Possibly, although Tacitus refers to a “Chrestus” which is a problem, especially determining independence.

    4. Do the four gospels attest to Jesus crucifixion? Upon reading the four accounts we find out…Yes. Albeit there are not independent accounts, and provide conflicting evidence surrounding the account. (Who was there, words said, the spear, the day, the trial(s) before, the time.)

    Unfortunately it has been my experience Christians very, very rarely want to do the hard work (and given the internet age, it isn’t even all that hard anymore; the Talmud, Mara Bar-Serpion, Tacitus, the Gospels, Josephus are all on-line—easily found via Google) of actually looking at the sources. They want short sound-bites providing confirmation of what they already believe and are sedated.

  • In Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present:: What are Critical Scholars Saying?, Habermas acknowledged that most of the publications he articles he surveyed were written by theologians or New Testament scholars, not historians. Therefore, your assertion that a majority of modern historians accept the minimal facts is inaccurate.

    In that same article, Habermas indicates that there was a 3:1 ration between “moderate conservative” Christian publications and skeptical publications. I think that may go a long way to explaining the 75% of scholars who accept the empty tomb.

  • Boz

    I said: “so, you could say that I require more evidence before I will believe a miracle/supernatural/magical/paranormal claim, than I would for a non-magical claim.”

    I should make this more clear.

    I require more evidence for outrageous/incredible/far-fetched/fantastic claims, than for non-incredible claims.

    incredible claims are not limited to only miracles. Some non-miraculous incredible claims include:
    I won the lottery
    I am 210cm tall
    I caught a 5m long fish
    I had lunch with the head of state of my country
    I own a space shuttle
    I found $10,000 lying on the footpath
    etc.

  • Bill,

    Here is another way to think about the argument that I think Boz is making. A common ordinary phenomenon occurs much more often than an extraordinary unprecedented phenomenon. Therefore, all other things being equal, an explanation that depends on a common ordinary phenomenon is more likely than one that depends on an extraordinary unprecedented phenomenon. Therefore, more evidence should be expected for the extraordinary explanation in proportion to the extraordinariness of the phenomenon. Since myths and legends are much more common and ordinary than actual verifiable supernatural events, they are the preferred explanation absent unprecedented and extraordinary evidence.

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    I’d like to clear up two things you said about the Talmud and Mara bar-Serapion.

    Regarding the Talmud, here is what Habermas and Licona write, “The Talmud reports that ‘on the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.’ Yeshu is Joshua is Hebrew. The equivalent in Greek is Iesous or Jesus. Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion in antiquity.” They cite a few passages to back this up: Livy 1:26:6ff, Luke 23:39, Gal. 3:13.

    So your statement is incorrect about the Talmud.

    What about Mara Bar-Serapion? Here is the extended quote from Early Christian Writings:

    What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom18 by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied. For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the. whole19 of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into Every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.

    Does this quote explicitly mention crucifixion? No. But it does mention the fact that the Wise King of the Jews (very likely referring to Jesus given the timeframe – AD 73-200) was murdered by his people. The fact that it doesn’t mention crucifixion does not take away the force of the evidence. It would be like me writing, “JFK was killed in 1963” and then you saying, “Well, since you didn’t mention that he was shot, your statement provides no evidence of his murder.” The main point is that Jesus was murdered. The crucifixion was the method of execution that was reported by many sources, so to remove Mara Bar-Serapion as evidence for the crucifixion is just another example of your unwarranted ultra-skepticism when it comes to any historical material about Jesus.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    Here is exactly what Habermas said in that article regarding the different kinds of scholars he researched:

    “The interdisciplinary flavor is noteworthy, as well. Most of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars, while a number of philosophers and historians, among other fields, are also included.”

    When I used the phrase “modern historians” I was referring to scholars who have made a thorough study of the historical Jesus. I was not trying to call out historians as a profession, because whether a person calls himself a historian or a New Testament scholar, or a philosopher has very little to do with their ability to do rigorous historical research. Habermas surveyed scholars who published in academic journals about the historical evidence for Jesus.

    With regard to moderate conservatives, Habermas says:

    For the purposes of this essay, I will define moderate conservative approaches to the resurrection as those holding that Jesus was actually raised from the dead in some manner, either bodily (and thus extended in space and time), or as some sort of spiritual body (though often undefined). In other words, if what occurred can be described as having happened to Jesus rather than only to his followers, this range of views will be juxtaposed with those more skeptical positions that nothing actually happened to Jesus and can only be described as a personal experience of the disciples. Of course, major differences can be noted within and between these views.

    So, there are moderates who deny the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, as they accept a spiritual body (not physical). The empty tomb only makes sense if there is a physical bodily resurrection, not a spiritual bodily resurrection. So the 3:1 ratio does not completely explain the 75% who accept the empty tomb.

  • Bill,

    A theologian does not become a historian simply by writing an article about the historical Jesus any more than he becomes a biologist by writing an article about evolution. Note that in the first sentence of his article, Habermas describes the historical Jesus as a “captivating theological topic.” There is a huge difference between a theologian who affirms an event as historical based on theological reasons and a historian who affirms an event based on the application of historical methodology.

    I would also note that I cannot find anywhere in that article where Habermas claims that all of these scholars (or any for that matter) made a “thorough study of the historical Jesus.” Nor does he say that their articles were “about the historical evidence for Jesus.” What he does say is that “the general consensus is to recognize perhaps a surprising amount of historical data as reported in the New Testament accounts.” The fact that theologians accept the historicity of the New Testament accounts doesn’t mean that their work can stand up to the principles, theories, or methodology of scholarly historical research. Personally, I see Habermas whole “minimal facts approach” as little more than smoke and mirrors.

    Have you ever read any of the arguments by the 911 “Truthers.” They cherry pick the video clips and eyewitness accounts that support their position and they assert that any theory must explain those particular “facts” and no others. Not surprisingly, the only theory that does the job is their theory that the Twin Towers were brought down by the U.S. government in a controlled demolition. Of course, when all the evidence is considered, their position is demonstrably absurd; however, their arguments can seem plausible if one is willing to wear their blinders.

    Isn’t Habermas doing the same thing? He wants you to ignore everything that is known about things like the propensity of ancient peoples to embrace myths and legends and the psychology and spread of religious manias. Instead, he would have you focus on a few carefully selected stories that were recorded by anonymous authors decades after the events were believed to have taken place. Unlike a real historian who must choose the explanation that best accounts for all the facts and evidence, Habermas demands that an explanation be chosen that accounts for only an extremely narrow subset.

    BTW, I agree that the 3:1 ratio does not completely explain the 75% of sources that accept the empty tomb, that is why I was careful to say that “it may go a long way.”

  • Bill Pratt,

    Oh, I was just using those as examples. I could point out others. But since you wanted to talk about them…

    Talmud

    I invite you to read the WHOLE passage. Note first, it never gives us any indication this Yeshua is the same as the Yeshua of the New Testament. That is a presumption on the part of Christian apologists, without addressing the commonality of the name. Why is this the same Yeshua?

    Second notice the Talmud’s Yeshua’s description and the events surrounding his execution:

    1. Sentenced to be stoned.
    2. Herald proclaims the execution for 40 days.
    3. Accused of sorcery.
    4. Accused of enticing Israel to apostasy.
    5. Hanged on the eve of Passover.
    6. Had either political or religions connections.

    At best, the sole similarity to Jesus in the New Testament is No. 4 (a fairly vague reference) and possibly No. 5 if you agree with John’s Gospel regarding the date of Jesus’ crucifixion, contradicting the Synoptic Gospels.

    Would you say Jesus had political and/or religious influence? Was there a 40 day herald? Was he sentenced to be stoned? What day was he executed? How do the Christian apologists deal with the contradictory nature of this historical claim? (Presuming it means the same person.)

    Yes, I know Licona wants to play word-games with “hanged” and claim it meant crucifixion. But does it in the Talmud? Does anyone actually READ the Talmud? Do I really even have to ask that?

    Here is a great place to start, where we read, “All who were stoned were also hanged.” Now, in case one claims this second killing was a crucifixion, I suggest you continue to read at the cite and see the fairly graphic and precise description of “hanging.” Whether it was one or more, how the body was placed, the difference between male and females.

    Do we have any descriptions of Jews performing crucifixions? There are none that I know of; crucifixion was a distinctly Roman practice at the time (Vlad the Impaler notwithstanding.) The Jews, when executing convicted criminals, stoned them and then hanged them, according to the Talmud.

    [I should note, because of the late dating, there is a question whether these laws were in effect during the Second Temple period. If they were not, this makes the passage regarding Yeshua even less likely to be the Jesus of the Second Temple period!]

    To claim this “hanged” in Sanhedrin 43a means “execution” requires us to ignore the rest of the Talmud. Is that good historical practice?

    Mara Bar Separion

    Thank you for quoting the passage and acknowledging it does not reference “Jesus” nor does it indicate the person was crucified. Exactly what I said previously, upon reading the passage we find it does NOT attest to Jesus’ crucifixion.

    (Also the fact this was written sometime between 70 -200 CE does not mean it must be about Jesus. When did Socrates live? When did Pythagoras live? You aren’t claiming those two individuals lived about the same time as Jesus are you? Further, notice it is claimed the Jews killed this king; whereas the Gospels indicate the Romans killed Jesus. The passage indicates the Jews were subsequently “expelled from their kingdom” whereas the Jews were not expelled subsequent to Jesus.)

    Thus it would appear my previous statements were…correct!

    Bill Pratt: …so to remove Mara Bar-Serapion as evidence for the crucifixion is just another example of your unwarranted ultra-skepticism when it comes to any historical material about Jesus.
    .
    Bwahahahaha….wow do you have me pegged wrongly! “Ultra-skepticism.” That’s too funny! Perhaps it was miscommunication on my part.

    Bill Pratt, I am firmly convinced, within my method, that Jesus was crucified. I find Paul’s writing, with Mark’s support, to be adequate historical records regarding Jesus’ crucifixion to hold it as historical fact.

    I don’t need the Talmud, or Mara Bar Separion, or Josephus or Tacitus to convince me. That is where the Christian apologists go on the wrong track (in my opinion.) For some reason, they feel the New Testament is just…not…quite…up to snuff to be convincing on this (extremely minor) point. So they start grasping at straws, trying to bolster their claim by claiming the Talmud says it! Tacitus says it! Mara Bar Separion says it!

    But when we look at the actual passages we find…lo and behold…they either DON’T say it, (in the case of the Talmud and Mara Bar Separion) or the case is questionable (in the case of Josephus and Tacitus.)

    This raises a huge question of credibility to me—why bring up these passages as support when they are thin (at best) and wrong (if we read them)?

    When I made my comment, I wasn’t arguing, “Jesus wasn’t crucified.” I was pointing out how there is a credibility issue. This just happened to be the first statements made, so they were the first ones I utilized.

    I could have pointed out the hearsay evidence regarding Paul reporting the Disciples saw Jesus post-resurrection. Or how Paul only saw Jesus as a vision. Or how Paul used “appearance” as a mark of authority. I could have pointed out all four gospels do NOT have Jesus appearing to the disciples. (Mark.)

    I could have pointed out Clement and Polycarp refer to a “resurrection” but do not have appearances (if I recall correctly. I would have to re-read them. Why bother? Christian apologists won’t. If you think Clement and Polycarp have a post-resurrection appearance, tell me “to whom” and give me a cite. Thanks.) I could have pointed out the numerous historical inaccuracies in Acts, as well as the historical narrative, and the noted similarities between Paul and Peter’s sermons demonstrating they were made up.

    I could have pointed out the problems with Paul’s conversion—(If Paul knew these minimal facts, then clearly they weren’t enough to convince a First Century Judean who had access to the information—why would they be convincing to me? If Paul didn’t know these facts, then they weren’t being proclaimed to outsiders who could check the facts out! Either way, there’s a problem.) I could have pointed out the problem of Paul’s death, including Clement, Tertullian and the Acts of Paul.

    I could have pointed out the issues surrounding James, and how we was NOT killed “for his beliefs” but rather as a political patsy. I could have pointed out the legendary development from the story in Josephus (a phrase interpolated, in my opinion) to the Apocalypse of James (iirc) to Hegesippus. (It is amazing how much I have forgotten. Always amuses me when I re-do a google search and find a thread where I already addressed so many of these issues!) A great demonstration of myth development, and why “die for a lie” is not sustainable.

    I could have pointed out the problems with “Empty Tomb” story and how it is a later development. I could have pointed out how, not only do we need to provide an explanation for these facts, but for ALL the facts, including myth development, lack of persuasion, the requirement to go to the gentiles, etc.

    But I didn’t…I only pointed out a few under the bit about Jesus’ crucifixion. You have indicated numerous times you don’t like these long discussions, or having to respond at book length. So I didn’t bring up all the other issues.

    Just a few. One you seem to agree with my assessment; the other I suspect you relied upon Licona without reading the Talmud itself.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    Your basic argument seems to be this:

    1. Theologians and New Testament scholars are biased about Jesus.
    2. Biased people cannot do proper historical research on the subject they are biased about.
    3. Therefore theologians and New Testament scholars cannot do proper historical research about Jesus.

    Premise 2 is obviously wrong, it seems to me. If we only allow people with absolutely no bias on a topic to ever do historical research on it, then no research would ever be done!! Researchers study things they are interested in, not things they don’t care about. It is highly unusual for a person who has an interest in a topic not to be biased about it.

    Jewish writers have done more to catalog the atrocities of Nazism than anyone else. I guess we should ignore everything they write because they might be a little biased about the subject.

    You said, “[Habermas] wants you to ignore everything that is known about things like the propensity of ancient peoples to embrace myths and legends and the psychology and spread of religious manias.”

    First, I don’t see what these general sweeping statements have to do with investigating whether very specific events are supported by historical evidence. How exactly should Habermas include this information in his research of the historical documents in question? What would that look like?

    Second, can you even demonstrate this claim that only ancient peoples have these issues? It seems to me that myths, legends, and religious manias are alive and thriving today, and always have been. I don’t see how the existence of myths, legends, and religious manias prevents us from looking at objective historical evidence. This idea that all of the ancients were a bunch of gullible fools is highly suspect. It’s just a theory that helps skeptics sweep aside all the historical evidence for Jesus without having to investigate it.

    Third, you seem to forget that even hardcore skeptical scholars agree with much of what Habermas says about these facts. I watched a live debate where Bart Ehrman admitted that all of these facts are true. Is he not skeptical enough for you?

  • Darcy

    Vinny about 911 “Truthers.”,
    “Of course, when all the evidence is considered, their position is demonstrably absurd; however, their arguments can seem plausible if one is willing to wear their blinders.
    Isn’t Habermas doing the same thing?”

    It seems to me these kinds of arguments fit better the aproach of Jesus-deniers or Jesus ressurrection-deniers. Aren’t they doing the same (trying to rewrite history)?

  • Bill,

    That is absolutely not my argument.

    My argument is that theology is a different field of study than history and that theological methodology, training, and expertise are different from historical methodology, training, and expertise. I do not claim that theologians are incapable of doing proper historical research. However, just calling a theologian a historian is not sufficient to show that he is in fact capable of doing proper historical research or that he did in fact reach his conclusions as a result of doing proper historical research.

    BTW, you are also absolutely incorrect about Ehrman admitting all the facts. I’m not sure which debate you are referring to, but in his debate with William Lane Craig, he said the following: “I have, in fact, disputed the four facts that he continually refers to. The burial by Joseph of Arimathea I’ve argued could well be a later invention. The empty tomb also could be a later invention. We don’t have a reference to it in Paul; you only have it later in the Gospels. The appearances of Jesus may just as well have been visions of Jesus as they were physical appearances of Jesus because people did and do have visions all the time.”

  • Darcy,

    It is not a question of rewriting history. It is a matter of deciding which events should be considered historical in the first place. The 911 Truthers and Habermas want the decision to be made based on a carefully cherry-picked set of evidence whereas real historians consider all the relevant evidence.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    I saw him debate Mike Licona last year and Licona presented three facts and Ehrman did not challenge any of them; he was satisfied to let them lie. In fact, Licona pointed out during the debate that Ehrman wasn’t challenging any of them, and Ehrman never batted an eyelash. If he did not agree with the facts, then he certainly left a very powerful impression that he did, especially since these facts were the centerpiece of Licona’s material. Please read my notes from the debate here and here.

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    I have, in fact, read the passage from the Talmud. It might shock you to know that Habermas has as well! In his book, The Historical Jesus, he has the passage quoted on p. 203. It turns out that I read, Habermas reads, and Licona reads. I am wondering when the day will come when you drop this tired accusation from your comments.

    Sometimes people leave out full quotations and lengthy explanations with lots of data for time and space reasons. Sometimes they leave it out because they know their audience is not interested. I have said these things before, but you are a slow learner on this topic. I hope it will finally stick this time.

  • Bill,

    Licona only used your first three facts in his debate with Ehrman, didn’t he? Therefore, it is absolutely inaccurate for you to claim that Ehrman agreed with all five of the facts that you presented, isn’t it?

    For some reason, Christians cannot resist the temptation to tweak the facts in order to make their arguments seem stronger. Ehrman concedes Licona’s three facts and you claim that he agrees with your five facts. Habermas surveys theologians and New Testament scholars and you claim that “most historians” agree.

    More than anything, it is this propensity to exaggerate that causes me to reject the historicity of the Gospels. I cannot help but think that early believers were just as prone as today’s believers to tweak the stories they heard as they passed them along just to make them more impressive.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    Are you serious? Come on. My initial recollection was that Licona presented the five facts from the blog post and so I wrote “I watched a live debate where Bart Ehrman admitted that all of these facts are true.”

    I went back and saw that it was three facts and included that in my next comment and even pointed you to two blog posts where I discuss the three facts. If I was hiding this information or trying to trick people, then why did I point it out to you??!! I am truly incompetent when it comes to “tweaking the facts,” as you put it.

    The irony here is that you would never have known it was three facts instead of five unless I told you. Have you never made a mistake like this? Has everything you’ve ever said been exactly precise and accurate?

    I have some bad news for you; I will continue to make mistakes just like everyone else, and I will try to correct them, but if this kind of thing truly upsets you this much, you might want to go spend some time with people who are perfect and never make mistakes. We mortals will hang around here at this blog.

  • Bill,

    If you recognized your mistake when you looked at your earlier post, why didn’t you just acknowledge it by saying “You’re right Vinny. Ehrman doesn’t agree with the empty tomb”? Why did you try to defend your claim by saying “If he did not agree with the facts, then he certainly left a very powerful impression that he did, especially since these facts were the centerpiece of Licona’s material”? That does not impress me as someone who is trying to correct his mistake.

    I also make mistakes, but I really hate getting caught at it so I try to avoid making assertions of fact based only on my recollections, particularly when it is relatively easy for me to check the facts. I wouldn’t have made a claim like that about Ehrman without going back and checking my earlier post in order to see exactly what it was he had agreed to.

    I do not believe that you intended to deceive, but if you are not capable of accurately remembering and reporting what Ehrman said, why should I believe that first century Christians were capable of accurately remembering and reporting what Jesus said and did?

  • Bill Pratt,

    I didn’t ask about reading just a the passage of the Talmud—I asked if people were reading the Talmud as a whole. Anyone could read just Sanhedrin 43a (heck, I gave a cite for them to do so. A click; a few minutes…and done.) What about the sections dealing with stoning and hanging were “hanging” means…well…”hanging.” Not crucifixion? What about the fact the Jews did not utilize crucifixion?

    And even if we want to focus on just this passage, why do Habermas and Licona “breeze over” the contradictions in the passage as compared to the Yeshua of the New Testament?

    You are quite right that people can “leave out” full quotations and lengthy explanations. It is their privilege to do so when writing books. But if the sections they conveniently “leave out” happen to directly conflict with their claim…doesn’t that cause you just a teensy bit of concern as to why they are leaving them out?

    This is why I don’t find Christian apologists credible. When I look up their sources, I see they have often “left out” ( I am quite sure for “convenience”) contradictory portions in the very passages they cite! Perhaps this is satisfactory to you. Within my method, this is definitely not satisfactory!

    Let’s look at the actual passage within Sanhedrin 43a:

    “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. –Ulla retorted, “Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a Mesith [enticer], concerning whom the scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him? With Yeshua it was different, for he was connected with the government [royalty, i.e. influential.]’”

    Was this the same “Yeshua” as the New Testament Yeshua? (By the way, Bauckham lists Yeshua as the sixth most popular name during the Second Temple period.) Take the facts listed one by one.

    1. Talmud Yeshua–40 days of herald; New Testament Yeshua–no herald.
    2. Talmud Yeshua –to be stoned; New Testament Yeshua not allowed to be stoned. (John 18:31)
    3. Talmud Yeshua –practiced Sorcery and enticed to apostasy; New Testament Yeshua arguably did the same.

    4. Talmud Yeshua –hanged (and probably stoned); New Testament Yeshua – crucified.
    5. Talmud Yeshua – killed by Jews; New Testament Yeshua – killed by Romans.
    6. Talmud Yeshua – had political influence; New Testament Yeshua – had no influence.

    The only reason Christian apologists want this to be the New Testament Yeshua is to bolster their claims. Yet they fail to address the contradictions introduced!

    You gave the link for a book in your blog entry: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus wherein Habermas & Licona state: “The Talmud reports, ‘on the eve of the Passover, Yeshua was hanged.’ Yeshua is Joshua in Hebrew. The equivalent in Greek is Iesous or Jesus. Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion in antiquity. Clearly Jesus’ death is a historical fact supported by considerable evidence.”

    Funny how they skipped over the herald, stoning, hanging, influence.

    Now, I don’t have a copy of Dr. Habermas’ The Historical Jesus. The only thing I could find on-line wasthis cite which quotes Dr. Habermas as saying:

    “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!”

    And this cite that gives the same quote.

    Curious he left off the last bit about Yeshua having political influence. I also found where
    Dr. Habermas is not so dogmatic and qualifies Sanhedrin 43a by stating, “I think that most scholars believe that is a reference to Jesus pertaining to his crucifixion.”

    Bill Pratt, the absolute inane part in all this, is that I agree with you, Dr. Habermas and Dr. Licona that Jesus was crucified! I just think the historical evidence should be treated as written, and not “shoehorned” into a certain theological position. I would find Dr. Habermas and Dr. Licona so much more credible if they said, “the Talmud may refer to Jesus’ crucifixion, although there are contradictory details that reveal it is very likely talking about another Yeshua.”

    You may not be interested in the parts they leave out, but I am. Do I not qualify as being part of their “audience”?

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    I have no idea of how there is any conceivable connection between my failure to recollect the exact contents of a blog post I wrote last year (I’ve written around 200 in the past year) and the ability of first-century Christians to remember and report what Jesus did. Can you help me with this? What is the connection?

  • Bill,

    Why is it whenever I catch a Christian apologist fudging the facts, they begin complaining that my standards are somehow impossibly high?

    In fact, I wouldn’t expect you to have exact recollection of the contents of a blog post you wrote last year. However, I do think that you might have recalled that Michael Licona didn’t use the empty tomb or the conversion of James as part of his minimal facts argument. Heck, I knew that and I’m not studying at one of the finest apologetics seminaries in the world and I don’t regularly teach or speak about apologetics at my local church.

  • Boz

    On the issue that Bill Pratt brought up earlier about me being especially suspicious of what christians say about jesus. It is true, I am especially suspicious of what christians say about jesus.

    This is because christians have a perceived coflict of interest and an actual conflict of interest.

    I am equally suspicious of what CEO’s and Chairmen say about their companies, and I am equally suspicious of what muslims say about muhammad and the koran, and I am equally suspicious of pretty much anything a politician says. :p

    I’m not saying that a person with a perceived coflict of interest cannot give an objective and balanced assessment of the particular issue. They can.

    I am saying that a person with a perceived coflict of interest has an incentive to give a biased assessment of the issue. Note that in the OP, Bill Pratt has given a biased assessment of the issue.

  • Arix (@UK)

    Boz,

    and their opponents don’t have a similar conflict of interest as well?

  • texastig

    Vinny, there are New Testament scholars that aren’t Christians that agree with the historical evidence of Jesus resurrection.

  • texastig

    As skeptical historian Michael Grant says “The historian… cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb”, because using standard historical criteria, “the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”
    Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), p. 176.

  • texastig,

    I’ve looked at Michael Grant’s book and I cannot figure out what “standard historical criteria” he is applying to the empty tomb. He certainly didn’t seem particularly skeptical to me.

  • Thomas

    Bill Pratt!!!!!!!!! I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH!!!!! What an amazing website with such amazing articles!!! How I have longed to find something like this! THis is what they should be teaching in school and universities – none of that other A + B = A+ B stuff

    My friend do not be discouraged by the people, keep up the amazing work and may God keep giving you the strength and wisdom to stand up for the truth!

    People are so concerned about Historical facts arguing over pointless things, can’t you see – you will never ever be 100% convinced – you are always itching away trying to find anything and everything to satisfy your hearts. God doesn’t want you to prove he absolutely exists – although Bill’s arguments convince me he does 🙂 , God wants you to take the leap of faith, If we could proove God exists etc then the element and journey of life looses some of it’s beuty. Arguing about historical facts, although intersting to a point, seems to have become all your lives, you could be doing so many other better things, you all seem like mad men the way you are going on about every little point. Whatever ever happened to “the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children?” Would you say little children would go on and on like this? – (I am not saying being childish, but rather more child-like)

    Rather spend the time using wisdom and teachings to better yourself, your life, the way you deal with and treat other people.

    I don’t know what you wrote about scientific evolution Bill, but the Catholic perspective is that Adam and Eve don’t have to be taken literally – Science cannot be contradictory to God, Evolution proves the oldest rock is 9832650935602938655 million years old or whatever, it’s what lies within the stories that counts, that is what God is trying to teach us.

    the true success of life does not come from without, but rather what comes from within, you can become the best historian in the world, it means nothing if your heart is not also the best in the world as well. Too many people have great minds, but not great hearts!

    Keep up the AMAZING work BILL – Loving every bit!!!!

  • Thomas

    hahahah Just came across an awesoem video that made me think of all the people writing on this website – deep down you all sound like this guy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sx_7PDBR8s – Bill will help you find your keys, but youare the only one that can use them =)

  • Raphael Wong (The Catholic)

    Thomas …

    I am afraid that you got the Catholic view only partially right. Yes, the Magisterium teaches that good science cannot contradict good theology, and yes the Church accepts carbon dating of rocks. But, the Mag still holds that the story of Adam and Eve and onwards is to be taken literally with regards to the soul. The age of rocks has no correlation with the age of man.

    Boz,

    And then … should you not be equally suspicious of anyone who has a vested interest? Why only be suspicious of those with a vested interest to promote, and not those with a vested interest to maligh?

  • Thomas

    Raphael

    Thanks – do you know where I can find the exact teaching behind it then? A link or something? I know they are meant to be taken literally with regards to the soul and heard that some profound teachings have come about because of those stories, but on the other hand if that story were true completely and Adam and eve had children, how did the rest of the world come around? I know it is not incest (I hope) – in other words were can I found out where the line is drawn between what is and what is not taken literally then? I also heard that some of the books e.g. the creation stories came from other authors and coutries such as Egypt (if I am not mistaken), who wrote these books – do you perhaps know where I could find out all about the teachings behind the book of Genesis and how they originated, what the church teaches about them to this day?

    I also feel that our entire religion is based upon the teachings of Judaism, where can I get articles like Bill has written about proof of the ten commandments? How do we proove God spoke to Moses and the burning bush? IS there any proof that the ten commandments are revolutionary set of laws for mankind at that time or were they simply written in the hearts and minds of every person even before that time? Why did God choose the Jews, why didn’t he reveal himself to the entire world – what about the people in China and America at that time? What about the parting of the Red Sea, The great flood – If I could get teachings about all those questions – in depth – I would be so grateful? Does anyone know or have anything I can read about al this? Thanks

    Also Raphael – (this is random) Do you know where I can find out exactly when the Catholic Church decided that “he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit” Is the sin of not wanting God to forgive you and an explanation behind how they drew that conclusion from that statement?

    Thanks

  • Raphael Wong (The Catholic)

    Thomas,

    (1) You can read the Catechism and Humani Generis. Both are available on the Vatican’s websites. Just search for these terms. The Catechism is the standard authoritative source. There is no conclusive proof that the stories came from elsewhere; because they also happen to occur in another culture doesn’t prove that they were “copied” from that culture, be it Egypt or Assyria or Sumeria. But you might want to check out Kitchen’s “On the reliability of the Old Testament”.

    (2) K.A. Kitchen provides an in-depth justification of the scientific reliability of events from Exodus onwards. (For Genesis, he is a bit more sketchy, although he seems to affirm the historicity of Genesis 11 onwards.)

    Also, it is the standard theological position that God provided a general revelation to the whole world, but a special revelation to the Jews. Since everyone is descended from Adam and Eve, everyone – including the Chinese and the Americans, received the legacy of Adam-and-Eve and Cain-and-Abel in their historical cultures. But due to Original Sin, people forgot about these revelations. So God chose the Jews to be a light for all the nations, to be an exemplar of virtue and God’s way for the whole world. The Jews were given a task, which unfortunately they misinterpreted – and some Christians still do today as well – as a special status. Israel was supposed to hold Divine embassy, but it failed in its role.

    (3) I suspect you misquoted somewhere, because I don’t remember reading or hearing of any such teaching. I think that in fact, you inverted it. Not wanting God to forgive you is a sin of blasphemy, not the other way around. The rationale: you are declaring the impotency of God, and the superiority of yourself.

  • Bill Pratt

    Thomas,
    Thank you for your kind words. It’s comments like yours that make all of the work of maintaining this blog seem worth it. I hope to continue seeing you around!

    God bless,
    Bill

  • Thomas

    Thanks Raphael

    Bill – You should get praised so much for what you have done!!! all this knowledge, all this evidence, all of this! WOW! I cannot thank you enough! This really is life changing stuff!!
    I am definately going to be a regular on this sight – been locked onto it for the last 5 hours, so interesting, so amazing, how great the world would be if everyone had to read all this, how great the world would be if all Christians could even try understand 1 thing from this website a week and use it in their lives. Although you might not get praised verbally I am sure that God and all the angels are smiling down on you! Even the people that don’t admit it or thank you, and the people that take all this for granted, I am sure their spirits and hearts must be screaming thank you! I will keep you and all the other people who do such good work in my prayers.

    Even if you don’t see the results, you are planting the seeds and it’s things like this that will really help change the world!

    You will definately see me around and hear from me, Check your “got questions section” 🙂

  • Boz

    Hi, Raphael Wong (The Catholic).

    You are correct, and I agree, that we should be particularly suspicious of anyone with a perceived conflict of interest. (When discussing the issue where there is a perceived conflict). It doesn’t matter which side of the issue the person is on.

    Your comment reminded me of this article (below), which discusses the idea that theistic apologists are very similar to lawyers in an adversarial court case.

    In a court case, both lawyers give the best possible argument and evidence for their client, while ignoring or dismissing the opposing side’s arguments and evidence.

    Similarly, apologists (this article is an example), give the best possible argument and evidence for their team, while ignoring or dismissing the opposing arguments and evidence.

    If, like a judge or jury, we want to discover what is true, we need to assess the arguments and evidence from all sides, while using our best efforts to be impartial. This is basically what John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith says.

    http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/2010/09/do-apologists-just-not-care.html

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